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UCSD awarded nearly $100 million in grants in April

April marked a monthly jump in grant money awarded to the University of California San Diego for its various initiatives. A university report detailing monthly grant activity shows that grants awarded to UCSD in April totaled more than $99.4 million, the closest the university has come to at least $100 million in a single month since it was given more than $164 million in December 2013.

During the first three months of 2014, UCSD's monthly grant totals hovered around $60 million, with $63.39 million in March, $62.79 million in February and $58.68 million in January.

April's figure brought the university to a total of $827.44 million in awarded grants since the start of fiscal 2014, which ends this month.

The university's grant reports are released a few weeks after the end of the month that’s covered.

Through April, UCSD had procured 15 percent more in grant money this fiscal year as compared with where it stood after April 2013, according to the report.

In a rolling 12-month analysis ending with this April, the university procured $1.09 billion, compared with the $954.6 million it was awarded in the 12 months ending April 2013.

Among the largest grants awarded to UCSD in April were $2.71 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for the Department of Medicine's program project on the role of innate immunity in atherosclerosis.

According to UCSD professor of medicine Joe Witztum, the project seeks to understand the role of the immune system in atherogenesis, the process by which cholesterol is deposited in the arteries in the development of atherosclerosis.

"Depending on which blood vessels are involved with atherosclerosis, this leads to heart attacks and heart failure, carotid disease and strokes, and peripheral artery disease, and pain when walking or even loss of limbs," Witztum said.

He added that the money awarded in April is for one year's work. A similar amount has been awarded each year for a total of five years, though the current five-year cycle is a continuation of a previous five-year cycle.

Witztum said the previous cycle also provided the same general amount per year. The project is a collaboration among investigators at UCSD, Salk Institute and La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology.

Another sizeable grant of $2.05 million was awarded to the university in continued support of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research's development of imaging methods for biological systems across scales.

The grant also covers resource instruments such as intermediate high-voltage transmission electron microscopes, IVEMs.

The advanced technology center has been continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health for 25 years. April's procurement was awarded by NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Dr. Mark Ellisman, professor of neurosciences at UCSD and director of the NCMIR, said "breakthroughs continue to be delivered in neurodegenerative disease, cancer, heart disease and metabolic disorders" at the center.

"Local industries have spun out of the NCMIR, which also operates as an incubator -- linking the public and private sector," Ellisman said.

The National Institute of Mental Health awarded UCSD's Department of Psychiatry $1.77 million for the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center, which has also received NIH funding for many years.

According to Dr. Robert Heaton, a UCSD professor and vice chairman of academic affairs in the Department of Psychiatry, the grant is intended to provide infrastructure support, intellectual leadership, technical expertise and training to enable individual studies.

The studies, he said, generally relate to the effects of HIV infection on the brain and behavior, especially cognitive functioning.

In the UCSD Department of Neurosciences, another NIH grant valued at $1.56 million was awarded by the National Institute on Aging in support of gene therapy research for Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Mark Tuszynski, director of the Center for Neural Repair and a professor in the Department of Neurosciences, said the grant aims to discover new drug targets and develop new therapies for the disease.

The research is being carried out by a consortium of scientists at UCSD and the Salk Institute.

"We are attacking the problem at multiple levels,” including genetic screens, in vitro model systems and animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, Tuszynski wrote in an email. "One of our targets is likely to start clinical trials within a couple of years, reflecting the success of this program."

The grant, Tuszynski added, was originally funded nearly twenty years ago and has led to clinical trials of nerve growth factor gene therapy that are currently in Phase 2 multi-center clinical trials.

Tuszynski's team is applying for an extension of funding this year.

At the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a couple of ongoing scientific projects in the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics received more than $1.1 million in grant funding from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

Both of the projects benefiting from the incremented private grant involve operating seismic instruments to record earthquakes and other phenomena. Data from the sensors are distributed worldwide to the scientific research community for investigations into earth structure and the nature of earthquakes, according to Dr. Peter Davis, executive director of UCSD's Project IDA -- one of the beneficiary projects of the grant.

Project IDA, shorthand for International Deployment of Accelerometers, is a global network of broadband seismometers operated by the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The other project beneficiary, the USArray Array Network Facility, is connected to a series of portable broadband seismic stations that have been deployed across the continental United States.

The Array Network Facility component of the USArray project is charged with ensuring all the real-time data and metadata collected from the arrays are transmitted, checked for quality, archived and accessible online for researchers and the general public.

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